Monday, May 11, 2009

The Kindle DX Costs College Students $1050.60 More Than Traditional Textbooks

(Photo of crazy expensive Kindle DX courtsey of

The internet is having a very public love affair with Amazon's Kindle DX. So let's cut through the foreplay, and get right to it. Will the $489 Kindle DX replace the textbook for Gen Y?

All the buzz has been about how the Kindle DX is going to replace the textbook and how it's the future for college campuses everywhere. Mashable reports that Princeton, UVA, Case Western, Arizona State, and Reed College are all onboard with the Kindle DX and helping to digitize textbooks. While I'm all for digital textbooks, since textbooks are hugely inconvenient, we need to address the numbers first.

To get some other insights, I opened this topic up to HARO and to Twitter. Two of my responses were quite interesting (and polarizing at the same time):

Tim Lytle writes: "With a not quite a year old daughter, I think about what her education will be like. I wouldn't be surprised if she had most of her 'books' on a Kindle, and did most of her work on a tablet pc styled netbook or a 'smart' pen (the livescribe). The technology exists today, and it will only get better, more portable, and more accessible. Sure, maybe it won't be the 'Kindle' from Amazon that she uses - it will probably be something even more integrated, more 'natural'. Maybe something like a netbook with a second screen instead of a keyboard. She'll use it as a laptop with one touch screen displaying a keyboard. She'll use it as her book, flipping it 90 degrees to view two pages. She'll lay it flat and grab a stylus to take notes or work on her art project.

As for cost? Ask any college student if they'd rather pay $500 once then $10/ebook, or buy all paper books. Of course, textbook publishers won't be happy, but there's a change growing in that field as well."

Kit Yarrow, Consumer Psychologist and Professor of Business at Golden Gate University writes: "What Gen Yers will love most is the mobility. They lead active lives and are famous for multi-tasking. I think the idea that they could snatch a few minutes of reading in anytime will appeal to them. Those texts are weighty in more ways than one. The problem lies in their ability to buy used texts via Kindle. Now that they have multiple online resources available to them many college students are circumventing their college bookstores in favor of less expensive options."

Tim and Kit bring up an interesting point - costs associated with adoption. Kit says that the abundance of online resources for buying and selling textbooks drive the cost of textbooks down already and that the inability to resell texts via the Kindle is a deterrent to adoption, while Tim brings up the idea that if the ebooks are cheap enough, it'll increase adoption rates.

So Let's look at the numbers:

The National Association of College Stores conducted a study that found that students spend on average $702/year on textbooks. This equates to a total expense of $2808 on textbooks over a 4 year college experience. It is also important to note that e-books are already available and contrary to popular belief, textbooks will not be $10 – publishers and authors still want their share. E-books were generally around 70% of the price of the regular print textbooks at the college bookstore and could not be sold back

(Looking at the UO bookstore, MKTG 420 Section: 41830 has their required book ISBN: 9780132224154 for sale at $159.75 new, $120 Used, $95.75 e-book. The e-book is 60% of the new price and 80% of the used price, or an average of 70%) Also important to note, is that the website states that an e-book can only be downloaded once, and will be auto-deleted after 150 days.

The Kindle:

1 Kindle DX = $489

Yearly E-Book expenses = $491.4/yr (70% of the yearly $702 average)

$491.4 x 4 years = $1965.6 + $489 for the Kindle

= $2454.6 for four years of e-books and a Kindle DX

The Traditional Textbook

$702 (avg cost/year) x 4 years = $2808

Given the alternative online resources for reselling textbooks, (,,, or simply selling them to my friends) I was on average able to recoup 40-60% of what I paid for my textbooks. For argument's sake, let's average that out at 50%.

If I'm able to make 50% back when I resell books at the end of the term I get:

$2808 x 50% = $1404

Total cost of traditional textbooks over four years = $1404

Total difference in cost over 4 years between traditional textbooks and a Kindle DX: $1050.60

While the Kindle DX may be slim and sexy, I'm pretty sure that any college student on a strapped budget is going to elect to carry their heavy books if it means saving $1K. Moreover, according to the National Association of College Stores, 26% of students said they usually pay for course materials with scholarships and grants. If the Kindle DX isn't can't be purchased with scholarship money (like some high-end electronics, i.e. computers) then the DX has even more pit against it.

Most importantly, you can buy a pretty sweet netbook for $489 which has way more functionality than a Kindle DX. Or alternatively, buy 489 rounds of drinks at Dollar Beer nights…just sayin.

--Now Let Me Clear My Throat--
Josh Groth


Anonymous said...

The ability to resell textbooks, and the price pressure this puts on new textbooks, may be the foe that the Amazon Kindle Trojan horse hopes to kill.

If all books are copy protected digital versions... and there's no second hand books stores any more--what keeps the price of a digital book at $10?

Melinda said...

It makes more sense to be able to down-load a textbook to a computer that the student already has or purchase a disc of the textbook.

I do like the thought of not having to lug heavy books and being paperless.

Anonymous said...

also, if you can access it via your computer too then it might make notes and references a lot easier.

Michael said...

If DRMed ebooks become the norm, then cracking the DRM will become the norm just like happened with Music CDs and DVDs.

What makes the most sense is for universities to pool their resources and create open source ebook textbooks to share.

Glen said...

You have a very valid point. What alot of people only look at is the up front cost of the textbook when making the argument for ebooks, but like you said when you buy a real textbook you have an item that can be sold and value can be recouped. The figures for 700 a year on textbooks is if bought the campus bookstore?

Kindle DX said...

good points about selling the used textbooks, i hadn't thought about that before. i still think there's pluses for the Kindle DX but price certainly isn't one of them.

Anonymous said...

I bought a Kindle 2 and had it for three weeks. I just couldn't wait for the DX. When the DX arived I returned the kindle 2. I am completely satisified with the Kindle DX. I think it is a great piece of engineering technology. see Amazon Kindle DX

Buy Kindle said...

Ya that's been the major problem with the Kindle DX's textbook idea. You can't resell the pdf files, maybe when that happen then okay, more people will get one.

Anonymous said...

Although these are valid points, I am a student who like to highlight and underline the textbook as I am reading for classes. This poses a problem as the college bookstore and used textbook buyers will not take textbooks that are marked up. On top of that since I am doing a double major in the sciences (biology and chemistry) and plan on going to med school and some textbooks for more advanced sciences and medical school classes can cost upwards of $500. Now it might not save money for everyone but it definitely will for people who mark up their text books to study.

Josh Groth said...

@ Anonymous, I think you bring up a good point. I was at a school that didn't care how marked up the textbooks were as long as there weren't any water stains or tears.

Kindle for sale said...

As long as DRM is around, I wouldn't depend on my Kindle to hold my most precious textbooks: they could be there one day and gone the next. That being said, one feature many people has been asking for is the ability to exchange books with other e-reader owners, pretty much the same as most of us already do with traditional paperback books. That would change a lot of things for the better, I believe.

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